"Finding, Buying and Collecting Your Hens"
Before you get your hens you need to have everything set up and ready for your new arrivals.
This means having:
• A safe and secure hen house for them.
• Suitable feed in the form of pellets or layers mash
• A drinker and feeder
Finding Chickens For Sale
You also have to locate a suitable source of chickens. This can prove a bit of a challenge.
You can get your hens from a local breeder or farmer. Try speaking with people at a farmers market, check the local newspaper, and go online.
You could also take a stroll around your local village mid morning and listen carefully for the sounds of hens. Many hens lay mid morning and often announce to the world that they have laid with louder than normal clucking.
You may think that’s a bit of a silly idea but I did just that one morning and discovered that our neighbour 3 doors down kept chickens, the gentlemen across the road did too, and about 3 other people on my block!
If you do find someone in your neighbourhood is keeping chickens have a chat with them and see if they can help you.
Now before you rush out to purchase new occupants for your coop, here are a few tips on buying chickens.
1. Always buy your chickens in person.
When buying chickens, you need to see what you are getting. Some companies will deliver them, but most reputable breeders operate a collection-only policy, and with good reason. By buying in person, you can see the condition of your birds, how they are kept, and reject any that are obviously sickly, ill or not as described. If in any doubt, walk away – there are always other chickens.
2. Buy in the light.
Buy your chickens in daylight, when you can properly see their condition. A healthy hen should be alert, active and bright-eyed during the day. Feathers should be glossy and complete, but this may not be the case if the hen is in moult, or is at the bottom of the pecking order. If so, she will grow new feathers once she is in your tender loving care.
3. Pick up your chicken.
There is no substitute for picking up a chicken and feeling her condition for yourself. Look for smooth legs, good feather condition. Check to see that the bone going down the centre of the bird is well padded with flesh either side. If it protrudes, it means your hen is thin and can denote problems. A firm body indicates good muscle and meat development. Gently part the feathers for a quick inspection for lice or skin conditions hidden below.
4. Check their comb.
The comb sits on top of the hen's head and should be red, plump and glossy (this often denotes she's in lay). If it's pale, but plump it probably means she's healthy but off lay. If it becomes dry, shrivelled or flaky; then that's an indicator of poor health.
5. The vent
It should be clean, if it's a round ‘hole' it means she's off lay, if it's elongated (like a slot) it means she's in lay! If it's dirty your hen may have an upset tummy or an infection.
6. The crop
Situated at the bottom of her neck, the crop should fill up when she eats and slowly deflate as she passes the food through to her stomach. It should be neither too packed solid with food (that can indicate an impacted crop) nor full of fluid (that can point to sour crop which smells foul too).
7. The bird’s demeanour
A healthy hen should be busy and active, feeding and drinking well, preening and scratching. A poorly hen will stand hunched and disinterested in her surroundings, (although sometimes wet or cold weather makes them hunch.)
Ultimately trust your instincts; if you like the bird - buy it. If it (literally) feels wrong, walk away from the deal, or choose another chicken.
Should Your Hens Be Vaccinated?
Good questions! This is the answer I got from a vet that keep chickens.
“The trouble with poultry vaccinations is that they generally
come in batches of 250 or 1000 doses, so it's basically impossible to get
back garden bred birds vaccinated - so they will only be done if you get
them from a big commercial breeder.
Not many of the diseases they can be vaccinated against are of concern to human health (except salmonella), so the main reason for doing them is for commercial flocks so they don't lose lots of birds suddenly. For back garden birds, worms and mites etc are more likely everyday problems”
So it’s really down to you and the person selling you your hens. If they have been vaccinated then that’s an added bonus.
Collecting Your Hens
Once you have located a source it might be worth a reconnaissance run. That’s what I did and it gave me time to wrap my head around the fact that “we were actually going to do this thing”. You can ask questions, check over the birds in general and then make a decision.
Once you do you’ll need to arrange to bring them home. For this you are going to need something to transport them in. This could be a large cardboard box, a cat carrier or something similar. They don’t need a massive amount of space but they do need good ventilation.
It can be a rather traumatic experience for the birds being packed into a box so you’ll want to drive calmly and not break suddenly or cause any further undue stress for your birds. Make sure to cut decent sized holes in the box sides to allow them a fresh flow of air.
Also remember in summer the inside of a car can get really hot and extreme temperatures are detrimental to hens.
Letting Them Loose
Once you get home carefully place the container/carrier with the birds inside the run and let them out in a calm manor. Make sure they have access to clean water and feed – if they are still very young or x bats this will probably be layers mash.
By now you will be excited and nervous at the same time, your birds will probably be just nervous! So leave them to it. Stay calm and try not to make any sudden movements. It’s probably best you just keep your distance for a little while.
With 2 eager kids in tow it was a bit of a challenge but I had warned them in advance that “their pets” would need a bit of time to adjust.
You’ll find that they may well be a bit coy at first but will soon start to explore their surrounding and start scratching about and pecking at things. For the 1st couple of days just let them be. Just make sure they have easy access to food and water at all times during the day.
Getting Them To Bed
Getting them back in the coop the 1st couple of times can be a challenge. For us it was almost comical!
It was midsummer and even though it was bed time for my daughters our new arrivals certainly weren’t yet ready. I guess they were thinking the sun is still up so why must we go to bed!
I ended up running in circles trying to get the birds to go inside the coop. All we achieved were laps around the hen house. Every time I approached them they were off.
So it may well be a two man job initially depending on your setup.
I let them calm down for a while and tried again. This time I got my wife to block off one side of their escape route and I approached from the other – slowly and calmly. This left them only one place to go - the large open door to the coop which they promptly entered.
What you will soon discover and something I didn’t realise at the time was when it starts to get dark they go to bed by themselves, its inborn, and trying to get them in earlier than they are ready to go I think probably isn’t fair.
Besides they need daylight to enhance their laying capabilities, so presumably, the more daylight they have, the better. If it’s necessary to get them inside earlier for whatever reason, then try to coax them with some corn.
After they are in then make sure everything is locked and leave them be. It could take a couple of days or even a few weeks for them to get into a routine. But as they get used to their new surroundings and you, they quickly learn.
Our hens put themselves to bed now. We see them start to head in the direction of the hen house and we know it’s time to come out and lock up.
In the next bit of information we’ll cover is how to correctly pick up and hold your chickens as well as how to clip their wings. Keep an eye on your inbox for the next instalment.
7 Readers Comments
Thank you so much your insights have been extremely helpful. We're collecting our girls tomorrow and as you rightly say i'm excited and nervous. Look forward to the next instalment. - Julia Griffin
I'm glad they have helped.- Mike from ChickenCoopsdirect.com
My chicken coop arrived this morning and is already constructed (thanks to your easy to follow instructions.) I can't wait to collect our hens now! I found all the additional email information about the purchase and keeping of chickens really helpful. I am very happy to recommend you Mike to anyone thinking about keeping chickens. Keep up the great work!- Liz.
I have read every word with a big grin on my face - i love hens! Darling Penny my little Wyandotte, silver laced bantam lost her little pal who was brought in from elsewhere and was manic. I caught her trying to swallow a mouse but was unable to retrieve it by the tail. Enough. I am concidering hens again, 3 at most, i thought Black Rock but changed my mind when so difficult to find an agent. I presume it is ok to have 3 different types. I even go 'gooy' when i see a hen house and i love your big-uns with run, tho when i'm in the garden my girls will free range. - Jill
I am enjoying your articles as I prepare to begin keeping a few hens later this year in my new garden. Very easy to read and informative.Thanks again for the helpful guide. -Wendy
These guides are great. I am reading them with great interest planning chickens as the latest addition to our family. I will soon be ordering our coop from you -Louise
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Many thanks for this thoughtful and informative guides. We've been looking forward to having chickens for a while, but were a little unsure what where to start, and what we needed to do. These guides have made the whole process so much easier. We await delivery of our Devon Coop with baited breath, and hope this is the beginning of a great chicken adventure!. - Jim